I spend about 180 days on the road, researching material for this Website as well as the several other publications I write and edit for (some of them mainstream, others geared to the GLBT market). Like an increasing number of regularly travelers, I plan many of my days on the road around meals. I'm mostly interested in sampling great regional fare - it doesn't matter much to me whether a restaurant is chic and atmospheric or dive-y and utterly charmless. If the kitchen's turning out fantastic food, I'm in. Here's a look at 12 meals that made an especially strong impression on me (and, in many cases, my waistline) in 2011 (I've also mentioned a number of similarly impressive restaurants throughout the article, in part because, to be geographically balanced, I refrained from naming more than one restaurant in any city). Happy feasting!
I can't even remember where I first heard about this cheese-focused restaurant, but that focus was all I needed to find out about - I was determined to find it. I walked what felt like a mile through a fairly crappy part of Vancouver
(heading east from Gastown) on an uncharacteristically hot day to check this place out - I had Alison Wellner, of Culinary Travel,
with me. We figured we'd check out the adjoining cheese shop and walk back, but once we read the menu and noted the cheese feast, we were in. It began with arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette, radishes & shaved Pecorino, and a glass of L'Orangerie Rose from Languedoc. Next came a three-tier cheese-and-meat platter with truffle salami, pate maison, parma, quince jelly, and several other treats. Then we were handed a baking dish heaped with piping-hot mac-n-cheese (Gruyere, white and yellow cheddar, and Stilton). The finale: gooey warm chocolate cookies - a whole basket of them. And to think how close we came to abandoning our walk.
Honestly, for years I dreaded visits to Palm Springs
because the city so lacked notable - even moderately good - restaurants. Things have sure changed. On my last two visits, I've eaten well all over the city. Here at Cheeky's, whose name you might expect of a silly theme restaurant, you'll find seriously delicious breakfast and lunch fare, including - this made me so happy - a flight of bacons from different high-quality purveyors around the country (Nodine's Smokehouse, Beeler, Neuske's, etc.). The truffle-parmesan hash is another standout, and I can't say enough good things about the Chilaquiles with homemade chorizo, tomatillo, queso fresco, and eggs over-easy. We had a terrific dinner the night before at Cheeky's sister restaurant, Birba.
If you happen to be driving to Palm Springs via I-40 from Arizona, here's an honorable mention of a great road-food stop: Burger Hut in the small town of Needles, California, on the Arizona border, served me a platter of carne asada tacos and a vanilla malt that ranked right up there with the best fast-food lunches of the year.
I spent a lot of time driving along I-40 this past year, and often stopping in great local Mexican restaurants. Another favorite experience: Bracero's Mexican Bar & Grill, Amarillo, Texas: Michoacan platter at Bracero's on Route 66 in Amarillo...this is sooo tasty on a frigid night. Excellent, crisp, hot chips and spicy salsa. Good beer. Local color. Random dude playing Mexican tejano music on guitar. It was -10 degrees that night, and I was driving from Oklahoma City to Santa Fe. What more could you ask for?
A sunny and smartly decorate Pan-Asian restaurant in the hip and historic LoDo section of Denver
. I enjoyed such a fabulous lunch here that the meal just barely eclipsed my stellar dinner the night before at Euclid Hall. Friends and I shared a series of small plates, all of them artfully prepared and boldly flavored.
I had dinner here in the fall, in Boston's gay-popular South End
, a neighborhood I lived in some years ago, with my old friend (and ex-boyfriend, in fact, Yoav). I probably eat charcuterie and cheese platters once a week, and this is one of the best (and most adventurous) I've sampled: beef-heart pastrami, blood sausage, tongue, pig's head terrine, and - as you might expect - coppa. We had a couple of kinds of cheese, too, and enjoyed some excellent Spanish and Italian wines from a well-chosen list. The space is lively and informal, on a shaded tree-lined street.
Elizabeth's, in the Bywater neighborhood a short drive from the French Quarter, has long been a brunch favorite in New Orleans
. I was fortunate enough to enjoy my very first meal of the year here, brunch on New Year's Day, after staying in the French Quarter at the atmospheric Hotel Monteleone. I filled up on the duck-sweet potato hash with spicy pepper jelly over a cornmeal waffle, plus a side of praline-bacon, that tastes exactly as sweet-salty delicious as it sounds.
This was another tough call on one of my regular trips through Sonoma,
as I ate well at a number of great places (Petite Syrah in Santa Rosa, French Garden in Sebastopol, the Vineyards Inn in Kenwood, and Nick's Cove down on Tomales Bay). But this ex-burger stand that now turns out imaginative version of short-order classics, with an emphasis, of course, on local ingredients, sort of blew me away. After sharing a plate of artichoke fritters with my dining companions, I tucked into an exquisitely good fried oyster po-boy. We finished with a trio of salted-caramel ice cream shakes topped with fresh-made whipped cream.
Among several outstanding meals during a spring trip to Indy
, this sumptuously stocked deli and specialty food shop left a happy mark on me (and my waistline). I began with the "Batali sandwich", packed with perfectly cured meats with provolone and preserved tomato, and then the group of us ordered a cheese and meat plate, and we were issued some of the stinkiest delicious cheeses I've tasted all year.
Went here for breakfast before beginning Maui's
famed drive to Hana. Such care is taken in the food here, that even a simple eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and capers is a revelation - the hollandaise sauce with a touch of lemon and a perfect, creamy consistency. You can dine in a peaceful courtyard, listening to music. Said to be wonderful for dinner, too. And well away from the touristy crowds.
I don't necessarily think it's sacrilege to mix mayonnaise and other filler with lobster when making a lobster roll, but I do think it's a second-rate way to treat this sublime meat. My preference, which is fairly easy to find in coastal Southern New England is lobster meat drizzled with drawn butter and served in a toasted hot dog bun. It truly melts in your mouth. I enjoyed an especially nice rendition of this last summer at PJ's Family Restaurant, right along U.S. 6, the main road on the Cape leading to nearby Provincetown
A week later, driving along I-95 in coastal Connecticut, I stopped for an equally delicious hot-buttered lobster roll in Old Saybrook, at a little hole-in-the-wall drive-in called Johnny Ad's.
This funky little roadhouse on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Wine Country
impressed me as much for food as for the great list of local wines - started with an out-of-this-world beet salad. Main dish was pulled pork barbecue - I've eaten great barbecue all over the South, and this one held its own. My friends ate fried catfish. And southern food in the Finger Lakes makes a nice counterpart to local Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and even a nice Sauvignon Blanc.
Living here and eating out often, I could easily have populated this list with nothing but Portland restaurants
. Some other greats of the past year include Little Bird, Country Cat (a regular favorite of mine for brunch), Lardo (at the S.E. Belmont food court - the pork meatball banh mi, specifically). Olympic Provisions, Toast, Cocotte, Verde Cocina, Brasserie Montmartre, and Irving Street Kitchen. But Tasty & Sons wowed me both with a dinner (the amazingly crispy chicken strips were a notable take on what's ordinarily a very pedestrian dish) and a roundly enormous breakfast in which a few friends and I shared barbecue chicken hash, polenta and sausage ragu with mozzarella (my favorite of the bunch), and Burmese red pork stew.
Elsewhere in the Northwest, I had some memorable meals during brief visits to Seattle (Revel, which serves modern Korean food) and Boise (Red Feather in Boise, which turns out well-crafted, locally sourced American fare).
I had two extremely memorable meals in Alberta's largest city, Calgary
, one at the more famous Charcut Roast House, which consisted of all sorts of delicious cured meat, cheese, and sausage. But it was a server there who suggested I check out Una the following night, and here I enjoyed mouthwatering thin-crust pizza topped with Swiss chard, goat feta, a farm egg, smoked bacon, and provolone picante. I'm pretty sure the pizza was meant to serve two. I ate it all myself, along with a starter of heirloom tomatoes with watercress and shaved pecorino. Had a carafe of Valpolicella, too. Excellent. Una's in a funky neighborhood, too , with a diverse vibe.